The Big One

It’s my birthday. Not just any birthday, either. It’s the big one. The big 6-0. As in, senior citizen discount at some places. As in AARP stuff in the mail EVERY SINGLE DAY.


My classroom

I had a great day. My classroom was decorated with streamers, lots of little goodies and treats found their way to my desk, students brought in cards and gift cards, room parents brought in a cake, a large pumpkin spice latte, a beautiful plant, and colleagues dropped by throughout the day with well-wishes and lovely gifts. One daughter gave me a gift bag full of birthday treasures and the other daughter sent the most beautiful arrangement of autumn flowers. My husband gave me a lovely glass and crystal cross, as well as a well-planned vacation for us in the near future.



Flowers from my daughter, Maddie

In spite of all of this, however, I’ve been thinking about this birthday with trepidation for about a year. I had trouble in my late fifties keeping the numbers straight. Am I 57 or 58? Sometimes I literally had to do the math. As in, “2014 minus 1956 equals 58. Yeah, that’s right, I’m 58.”


It’s not that I was in denial; I just didn’t care. The numbers didn’t seem to mean anything to me. I didn’t feel any differently at 56 than I did at 55 or 53 for that matter, so 57 and 58 really didn’t matter. BUT, and this is a big but, 59 hit me hard. On the morning of my 59th birthday, the first thing I thought was, “In one year I will be SIXTY.”


Charles Dickens action figure from my daughter, Margaret

There is no doubt about it. Sixty carries a certain degree of gravitas with it. My dad was 60 when his first grandchild, my older daughter, was born. Two years later, when my younger daughter was born, my mother was 60, and for her, that is when it all went to hell. She had a physical breakdown after enduring a very stressful incident where my baby brother was lost (and subsequently found, thank God) on the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico during a historic ice storm. She nearly died, and in the ensuing tests, was discovered to need bypass surgery on several arteries to her heart, renal bypass surgery as a result of untreated high blood pressure, and a cone biopsy for cervical cancer.


Birthday balloons from Twitter!

The bypass surgery and cone biopsy went well, but the renal bypass did not, and she came out of that operation on dialysis and on the kidney transplant list. For two years she endured dialysis and poor health until my aunt, her sister, gave her the gift of life with one of her very own kidneys. This selfless act of love gave my family twelve additional years with my mother, twelve years we would not have had were it not for Nanny Pat and her perfect match.


So, I was thinking last year on this day, how can I be one year from all of that? Luckily, just before my 59th birthday, a very brusque cardiologist stopped me dead in my tracks, and said one sentence filled with words that had taken me a lifetime to hear, a lifetime of yoyo dieting, faux exercising, and moaning over the fact that I could not lose weight, a lifetime to finally get, “Have you read your own medical history? If you continue on this path, you will be giving yourself insulin in a year, with more challenging health issues to follow.”


Downton silliness from a co-worker

After emptying my purse of any and all edible items while standing at the parking pay station that afternoon, I cradled my iPhone on my shoulder while telling my husband, “I’m done. That’s it. The foolishness is over. DO NOT purchase or bring home anything from the following list: pasta, bread, white potatoes, rice, dessert.” Instead, we eat primarily from a new list: lean protein, low-fat dairy, seeds and nuts, fruits and vegetables, and beans.


An array of cards and notes from students and teachers

A little over a year later, I am not just a sixty-year-old woman, I am a new person. After a lifetime of having little to no willpower, I now understand that my everyday routine does not have to include large amounts of carbohydrates, which turn into sugar, which is a bad thing for me. I managed to lose a significant amount of weight, and successfully make it through major holidays, two birthdays, three vacations, daily trips to the faculty room, otherwise known as carbohydrate central, and much, much more. My husband and I have changed so much about how we eat, how we order food in a restaurant, how we grocery shop, how we treat ourselves.


Crystal and glass cross from my husband

Late this summer I joined a gym. When I walked into Planet Fitness for the first time, it was my first time in a gym. I was grossly intimidated by the shiny machines, by the endless spandex, by the stoic way in which everyone was just going about their own business getting it done. With the help of a friend and my husband, I made myself comfortable on a few of the machines and began the process of slowly getting into better shape. This was made easier by the several years of dog-walking, where I slowly increased my daily steps from dismal to not too embarrassing.


French macarons and gifts from co-workers

Shopping for clothing in the last few months as I have continued to tone up a bit even when not losing any new pounds has become less of a dreadful experience, where I now leave with things that I “love”, not things that just “fit”. Everything I already own fits better, and a few things actually fall into that previously unknown category of “too big”. This summer I bought a bathing suit that I actually was happy with, and wore it in Florida to actually go swimming—without a cover-up.


Birthday surprises everywhere!

It’s the little things, right, but my blood work is not a little thing. With a modest weight loss of just a little over 10% of my starting point, I reversed all my bad numbers and increased all my good numbers. I am no longer pre-diabetic and I do not at this time need a statin or cholesterol-lowering drug.


Gift cards and a pumpkin spice latte, my favorite!

Do I still have work to do? Absolutely. My next weight-loss goal is to lose enough to weigh the “lie” on my driver’s license. My next fitness goal is to tone up my arms so I can wear sleeveless dresses and tops, especially when my husband and I go to Puerto Rico in November, which was my big 60th birthday present. I can’t wait. Flying is so much more comfortable since I’ve trimmed down a bit, and I have no fear that the seat belt won’t buckle or that I will feel like I’m spilling out of my seat onto my neighbor. Going to Puerto Rico has been a dream of mine since second grade, when my good friend Patty moved there because of her dad’s work. I can’t wait!


Daughter Margaret and me at birthday dinner #2

And so as my big day, my big 60th birthday day, comes to a close, I feel content and at peace with my new age. I don’t think I will have trouble remembering how old I am this year, and not because I feel panicky about being this old. I feel really good about where I am right now, both personally and professionally.


My husband and me at birthday dinner #1

My husband, who is my best friend in the whole world, worked really hard to make this birthday really special. I’ve gone out for a birthday dinner every single day since Friday! Some dining choices this long weekend have been healthier than others, but have no fear, I’m back on the wagon tomorrow! I’ll also be making a visit to Planet Fitness this week to work off some of this birthday glory before things get out of hand.


Birthday cake from my students

My daughters have been so thoughtful and kind, just a reminder of what wonderful young women they have become. I am so incredibly proud of both of them; and while we miss having them at home with us, we are happy they are happily out on their own, making their own path through life.


Daughter Maddie sent birthday wishes from LA!

This is my tenth year of teaching, and six weeks in, it feels like it will be my best one yet. My eighth grade class this year is unbelievable, a wonderful group of smart, hard-working, sweet, young men and women who really want to do well. They have re-inspired me to be the best teacher I can be, both for myself as well as for them.

mark-twain-quoteIn closing, I leave you with a favorite quote of the great American author, Mark Twain, who never took himself too seriously. As I start my next (seventh, YIKES) decade, I will try to remember this. I’ll keep working on my health and fitness goals, continue to grow spiritually and professionally, cherish my family and friends, and try not to take myself, or my age, too seriously. Cheers, à votre santé!

The Harsh Reality of Truth

A few years ago, on “club picture day”, my good friend and colleague stood with me and the students in the after-school club that we jointly moderate to take our photo for the yearbook. Weeks later, the photos arrived and we were each given our copy. Later that day, when we were looking at the photo together, I truthfully remarked to my friend, “I’ll never wear that outfit again!” Her reply: “Me either, it’s going right in the Good Will bag when I get home!”

The morning of that photo, we reflected that we had each dressed with care, knowing we would be in several photos that day, documented for all eternity in the school yearbook, gazed at lovingly by our students for generations to come with fond remembrances of their time with us in our after-school clubs. (Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration.)

truth in crossThe “truth” is that on that morning when we dressed for school and the photos, we thought we looked good. We felt good in those outfits; we felt as though we looked our best. The reality is that when I looked at the photograph I was appalled at how I looked. I didn’t look anything like I thought I did in that outfit; and certainly, I didn’t look anything like I felt in that outfit. I knew that I would never feel good in that outfit again after seeing that photo.

truth-set-you-free-in-ciaWe learn about the truth in John’s Gospel. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). So, does the truth set you free? Does seeing a photograph of yourself in an unflattering outfit set you free? Is it the photo that is unflattering or is it the outfit? Or, more disconcerting, is it that you really look that way that is the most troublesome?

Recently on the popular TV show Shark Tank, the sharks were pitched on a new product called The Skinny Mirror. This is a mirror that has been designed to make you appear as flattering as possible. The theory behind this, as presented by its founder Belinda Jasmine, is that some mirrors are distorted in a way that make you look heavier and shorter, while others give us a more true representation of our image. Buddha-Truth-QuotesShe found an old mirror in the attic and used it for three years before coming to the reality that it was affecting her self-image. She discovered that she looked better in some other mirrors than how she looked in her own mirror at home. So, after some research and development, she came up with The Skinny Mirror, a mirror that will send you off looking your best each day, or at least it will make you feel as though you look your best. Things were going well and it appeared as though one of the sharks was going to bite; Shark Lori Greiner even came up and took a turn in front of the display model. But, then things turned murky. Jasmine disclosed that some of her sales were to retailers. Wait, what? Retailers were installing The Skinny Mirror in dressing rooms so we would look better in their clothes and buy them thinking we looked great? Were retailers trying to unduly influence their customers? This didn’t sit well with the sharks and they all passed on the deal.

Is it just how we look or is it how we sound as well? I am a lector at Mass, which means I read a passage of scripture during the part of the Mass known as the Liturgy of the Word. I have a degree in speech, something that my father always joked about, “You knew how to talk when you went to college, why did you need to get a degree in it?” I take this job seriously. I study the scripture before Mass and read it silently several times. Then I read it out loud several times. I listen to the audio recording of the same scripture reading which is posted on the USCCB website. I am fully prepared for performing this ministry when I go to church. I dress modestly, being careful not to wear too much jewelry or anything flashy so as not to distract the congregation from the Word of the Lord. micRecently, a student gave me a CD with a recording of last year’s school play, which included my “welcome” speech before the curtain goes up. I was shocked at the sound of my voice. This is not how I thought I sounded. Sure, I’ve heard my voice on a recording before, on my voice mail message or in home movies, but I wasn’t doing “public speaking”, giving a speech before an audience. Do I really sound like that when I am reading scripture at Mass?

The truth is an interesting subject to study. There have been many famous quotes made by statesmen, religious leaders, authors, celebrities, motivational speakers, and others. In court, we “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God”.  On countless occasions we have watched politicians and politician wannabes tell us the “truth”, on live TV, only to find out later that it indeed was all a lie.

john bel edwardsRecently, my husband’s childhood friend and high school football teammate was elected Governor of the State of Louisiana. A major factor in the outcome of the race was intense campaign advertisements of the “he said, he said” nature. In the end, it appears that the people (well, at least the 38% of the registered voters who actually voted that day) voted for the candidate they believed, if not the candidate they believed in. I don’t personally know the new governor-elect, but I will take my husband’s word for it that he is a decent, good man of high moral character. Certainly, at face value the facts appear to document that. st augustine lionHe is a West Point graduate, served in the Army from 1988-1996, received a law degree from LSU, married his high school sweetheart (and is still married to her), and is the father of three handsome children. Has the nature of politics finally come around to this, a candidate winning an election because the voters were swayed by what was once considered normal and mainstream character and personality traits?

mark twainMark Twain in particular wrote of the truth often. Each year when I teach my Mark Twain unit in 8th grade literature, I give the students a selection of Mark Twain quotes to choose from. I’m always struck by the high percentage of choices that have to do with truth. Truth for a young adolescent is difficult. They almost all want to tell the truth but it is often clouded by fear and expectations. mark twain 2One on one, when I speak to a student about a situation, I can usually tell if they are being honest with me: eye contact or lack thereof, nervous tics, hemming and hawing, and changes in the story as my “discussion” with them continues. Most of the time, I get what I am after, the truth, with the hopes that the important lesson is not about the situation itself, but about telling the truth, or as some say, “manning up”.

My father was a stickler for the truth. Once when I was a little girl, I came out of the bathroom in the hallway of our three bedroom home (the only full bathroom in the house), with toilet paper wrapped around the calf of my leg. My father was in his normal position, on the sofa-right hand side-reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV. He glanced up and spotted the trail of toilet paper dangling from my leg. “What happened?” he asked. I didn’t hesitate for a moment, “I got a paper cut”, and continued to walk through the living room. He stopped me and questioned me further. “A paper cut? How? Where? When? With what kind of paper? On your leg? In the bathroom?” I made my excuses and continued on my way. My father did what any good detective would do; inspect the scene of the crime. Yep, razor on edge of the bathtub with drops of blood on the floor near the toilet paper. I was called back to the living room. “Tell me the truth and you won’t get punished. Were you playing with my razor?” Hemming and hawing ensued, I was ushered to the crime scene, where the evidence was still on display. bandaidAfter he cleaned my leg and put a Band-Aid on it, I was sentenced to kneeling on the hardwood floor in the hall, in full view of his place on the sofa, not for playing with the razor as he told me repeatedly for days, but for lying to him about it.

3 thingsRecently on Facebook someone posted an image that I shared so I could save it. Small children are notorious for telling the truth, even when we least expect it and most definitely don’t want it. Once when picking up my daughters from home day care, Nina, who had become a grandmother-figure to my two girls, brought me into her kitchen to give me a large shopping bag filled with the contents of a home-cooked meal: homemade chicken noodle soup (her specialty) and Mandarin Orange Jell-O Salad, another of her specialties. I thanked her profusely but was confused by the gesture. She had never given us dinner before. When I asked her what was the occasion, she said, “Don’t be embarrassed. It happens to everyone. I just thought a stress-free dinner would help.” Still confused, I loaded our dinner and my girls in the car. Immediately I asked the older daughter how was her day. Even at a young age, she was known for her keen observation and attention to detail. I figured she was my best bet at getting to the bottom of the mystery dinner. After hearing about who was on Oprah that day, and what was the afternoon snack, she finally said that she “may” have told Nina about the big fight. “The big fight?” I asked, horrified. She then went on to tell me that she had told Nina that her mom and dad had a big fight the night before and she was very upset and worried about it. Since neither my husband nor I could remember what the big fight was about, it couldn’t have been much of a fight. It was probably over the garbage or laundry or something forgotten from the grocery list. I tried to explain this to Nina the next day when I returned the dishes but she just smiled and patted my arm. The silver lining from this embarrassing episode: I got the homemade chicken noodle soup recipe and it is a family favorite to this day.

I also immediately shared this Facebook image with a friend. We often discuss the current trend, which indeed has grown legs of indeterminable length, of wearing leggings as pants. In full disclosure, I do not currently nor have I ever had the kind of body that could get away with wearing leggings as outerwear, and as a result some might say my feelings on this subject are sour grapes. But, I teach 8th grade boys and girls, in a Catholic school, with a strict uniform dress code, where we teach them to respect themselves and to respect each other. Yet, at out of school activities I see girls, on the cusp of womanhood, wearing nothing more than leggings and a sweatshirt, with every anatomical detail of their bodies from the waist down on view for the world to see, adolescent boys included. This is often accessorized with Ugg boots and the ubiquitous high ponytail swinging in the wind. I’ve also seen grown women, well beyond the “cusp” of anything, wearing leggings as pants, with only a brief nod at modesty by wearing a slightly longer tunic-style top.

do these make me look fatYes, leggings—as with small children and drunks—certainly tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Whether we look at ourselves in an unflattering photograph or in The Skinny Mirror, the harsh reality is that while we cherish and value the truth, often we see only what we want to see.